Thursday, 27 September 2012

Bokwa & Tai Chi

No, I haven't just randomly typed letters into the heading, those are in fact the names of two new gym classes I tried this evening.

Firstly Bokwa. Bokwa is the latest dance craze since Zumba hit our shores. Which admittedly wasn't that long ago, but turns out we needed another craze. As it happens I never got round to trying Zumba although I wanted to. I thought about it. A lot. But it would seem thinking about something isn't quite the same as getting off your arse and actually doing it.

Anyway, back to Bokwa. Bokwa is Zumba for people who can't dance, have no rhythm, no coordination and can't be arsed with complicated routines. Basically you just make out different letters with your feet on the you sort of step round an O shape, or an Lshape etc with a few bounces in between. And that's it. So as long as you have feet and you can spell, you're in. Sounds pretty lame. Except because there are no cringey steps and compulsory dance moves, you can pretty much do what you like within those shapes. So if you want to go all JLo and shake your booty round the place, you can. Or if you want to just step politely round the edges you can do that too.

Why am I telling you any of this?  Because I loved it.

I love dancing and music and being an old married in the berbs I no longer get to do it that often. Other than by myself in a dark room with my headphones on. I also get quite frustrated by dance classes at the gym when they start yelling at you to do moves you don't want to do,(or can't do more to the point) or that involve back breaking feats even a non dodgy back would wince at. I haven't done a gym class for an age...too busy, wrong time, crap timetable, back hurts blah blah am lazy and can't be arsed but making up various stupid excuses, that kind of thing. So I miss a good bit of group sweating and floor pounding.

Hence I signed myself up and off I went.  It was great. The moves are challenging enough to not be boring so you feel a sense of achievement when you have mastered them. The music is upbeat and uplifting, everybody is essentially doing their own thing, in the same vague shape with some ideas chucked in by the instructor, it was fast and high impact enough to get a good sweat (and a nice rosy face) on without being so gruelling I might never walk again. Perfect. ok, not quite perfect, it starts at 7pm which might be too early for me to ever make it home from work in time again but where there's a will...

So I repeat, why I am telling you this? Because it made me happy.

Why did it make me happy?

Because it was exercise. Because it was stretching (actually, like most gym classes, there wasn't much of that) but achievable. Because I was able to achieve a 'sense of mastery'. Because I could let myself go with the 'flow'. Because there was uplifting music. Because I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Because it was new. Because there was a community of us doing it together.

And then I thought to myself, the tai chi class is starting now. I could stay for that. Shall I? Well I wont get home until later. So? Well I hadn't planned to do that. but I suppose I could. I was going to start that next week. And so my inner monologue continued until I remembered something I read on Fat Girl Ph.D's blog earlier today. Stop thinking about it, just bloody do it. Nobody ever regretted working out, thinking about exercising or not is more exhausting than just doing the class. So, I stopped thinking about it and just went for it. I turned around and walked straight back into the same studio I'd just come out of and signed up for tai chi as well.

I have always wanted to do tai chi. There is something very appealing to me about it. It seems to graceful and considered and flowing and peaceful. And after the frenetic leaping around-ness of Bokwa it seemed the perfect antidote. It was.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I loved it! and again, it made me happy.

This time it made me happy for slightly different reasons.

Tai chi made me happy because e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g w.a.s s.l.o.w.e.d r.i.g.h.t d.o.w.n. giving me some much needed space. Space to breathe, literally and metaphorically. Because tai chi has to be so effortless I had to stop the trying so hard I seem to do the rest of the time. Because it is all about mindfulness and meditation. All the movements are really hypnotic and relaxing and I found myself really switching off from the outside and totally focusing inwards. Because tai chi is more spiritual than physical. Because I was learning a new skill...and as in Bokwa, actually managing to do it. I met new people. I relaxed. And I finally found a way to do something I have wanted to do for ages.

I should probably mention that I am also signed up for Anti Gravity Yoga next week as well so watch this space for yet another 'my new thing I learnt today' post.

So, the upshot of all of this is that I'm feeling rather proud of myself today. I got through a lot of work, I ticked off a whole load of chores, I ate well and I've made all my food ready for tomorrow. Then I went out and tried not one but two new exercise classes and enjoyed them both.

I know not every day will pan out like this, but it's worth stopping and appreciating it, and myself, when it does.

So, for now, well done me!

Monday, 24 September 2012

My love affair with autumn

Kicking through crunchy  leaves. Watching conkers bulging on horse chestnut trees and willing them to drop. Their beautiful, shiny, swirly, deep brown-ness that you have to catch quick before it fades.  Breath on a chilly night.  Pumpkins, butternut squash, soups,stews. Russets and golden browns. Long walks. Crisp cool air with bright blue skies. Snuggly jumpers and scarves. Bedding down. Boots. The crackle and hiss, the nose tingling of bonfires in the air.

I absolutely love autumn. I love autumn with a real unbridled child like joy. I experience a real sense of excitement every year when I start to feel it coming in the air. When I realise that soon I can go in search of conkers. Or when I spot a big pile of nice autumn leaves to crunch and kick through to my heart's content.

Take this evening or example. After a long day in the office I really fancied a little walk before settling down for the evening, to get some fresh air and clear my head a bit. Alex came with me. It was just what I needed. The air was nice and cold, but not too cold. The moon was bright. There were some leaves on the ground and I kicked through them absent mindedly as we chatted. And then I spotted there were conker trees lining our route and I could on longer focus fully on the conversation. It no longer mattered that we were only out for a short stroll before needing to get back for dinner. Time ceased to exist. Conkers were afoot. And underfoot, and all I wanted to do was find them and pick them up. I set about filling my pockets and hands with the biggest, shiniest bestest specimens I could find. My favourites are the ones still in their spiky green cases, so you have to carefully prise them out yourself. Or the ones that, when you open them up, actually turn out to be two twins in one case. It doesn't matter how many conkers I have about my person already, or how many times I've been out collecting that day/week/year, or how many years I've been doing it for, it never stops being fun and exciting and satisfying. And Alex knows this and so he joined in. It's weird, because it's not actually about having them, or taking them home. They almost lose some of their magic and romance once you do get them home. The joy is in finding them in the first place and marvelling at their number, and their beautiful deep colour. I know I'm probably quite weird in this way but there we go. I've talked before on here of my love of all things nature, and conkers are really the absolute pinnacle of all of that.

It's not just conkers I love. I don't just love autumn because it happens to be the home of conkers. I love acorns too, for example. Because squirrels love to squirrel them away and I have a particular affinity with squirrels (also documented on here) and because Peter Pan thinks they are kisses and gives one to Wendy which is just too cute. To be honest, I pretty much love all that autumn has to offer. And photographing it, all but one of these pics were taken today which was kind of my inspiration for the post.

I know I'm supposed to love spring best, with its promise of new life and rebirth and jolly prancing lambs and pretty flowers. Or summer, with its clear blue skies and long evenings and floaty skirts and barbeques. And I do love all of those things. But best of all I love autumn. Others might not understand. For many I'm sure Autumn signifies death and decay and bleak long dark nights and rain. But I never tire of it. Autumn has a lot to thank spring and summer for I suppose. If it weren't for all the nice new green leaves that grow in spring or the humid hottness of summer, autumn wouldn't be half as fun. Yet all too soon the leaves will have turned to mush, the conkers have faded and shrivelled and the lovely crisp blue air replaced by wintery ice, and snow, and hats and gloves.

But then again, I love all of those too.

So if I were to spin this around and try to find a link worthy of a blog that purports to chat about happiness as opposed to just about conkers, I'd say there are a few happiness tips in action here:

1. getting out and about and into nature is proven to improve happiness
2. being mindful and in the moment and noticing what is going on around you as opposed to lost in your own head, snap
3. getting a change of scenery, stepping away from the desk and the daily humdrum to clear some metaphorical space
4. moving and exercise, another biggie in the increasing happiness stakes. Nobody ever got happy sat on the sofa all day
5. finding things to be grateful for, whatever they may be, even if on the face of it things seem bleak
6. togetherness and socialising are key. Whilst getting some alone time is also important, holding Alex's hand and mooching around together was lovely
7. Conkers are amazing and I defy anybody not to smile when they find one*

*NB point 7 not quite as scientifically robust as the other 6, but I stand by it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012


It can be golden, or it can be awkward. Whichever way you look at it, silence is definitely reigning strong over my blog at the moment. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because there is other stuff going on in my life at the moment that mean I don't feel as much need to write things down in here as I did before. Or it could be that my blog is just the latest casualty in a long line of things that I start and then drop by the wayside as I move on to the next shiny new thing. Or it could be that other things have just taken up more room so I haven't had as much time to research, read and reflect on happiness type stuff. Or is it that there are things going on that actually I'm not quite ready to write about for whatever reason?

I don't know the answer.  I still have ideas about what to write about in here, but lacking in the inspiration to actually make it happen.

So rather than sit and stare at a virtual blank piece of paper any longer, I would just write about not writing to see if that helped at all, or unblocked anything.

It was actually an idea that sprang from some writing training I did at work the other week (my new work being something else I haven't written about, but then I never wrote about my old work either I suppose). Anyway, we had writing training and I loved it. It reminded me how much I love writing. Proper writing, with a pen and paper, not typing. Although I enjoy that too, in the write circumstances. Like now for example. I digress. Most of the writing training was focussed on 'free writing'. I have come across this concept before, mostly in the form of 'brain writing' as a brainstorming type technique, but never tried it in the way we did in the training. Basically we were given a series of prompts and had a set time to just write whatever came into our heads. The only rule was that the pen had to keep moving across the paper. No stopping to think, no going back and editing, just writing and moving forward.  If you got stuck, you could either write 'blah blah blah' until something else came into your head and out of your hand, or you could write about being stuck.

And so I come full circle. It gave me the idea to write about being stuck, sort of, on here.

As it turns out, starting out to write about being stuck has now actually led to writing about something I have rediscovered that makes me happy. Writing. Creative writing. I'm now going to start free writing as a daily practice. This is something the 'teacher' also suggested. The reason being it gets your creative juices flowing, allows you to muck about with metaphor and ideas and practice daily so your real written work (which there is a lot of in my job) becomes more fluent, more elegant as a result. She also talked about 'writing as thinking' which also really struck a chord with me. I hate that blank page feeling, but often I wont let myself commit pen to paper until I have a fully formed idea and know what I'm going to write. Daft she says. Where is the fun in that? Then the writing just becomes a chore because all of the fun bit and the creating and the thinking has been done. Instead use free writing as a way to eek out and form your thoughts. Often we dont know why we're stuck but free writing helps us to uncover what's really going on

So, here I am free writing, well typing at least, on my blog. I'm going to stick to her other rule and not read this back at all. I'm going to press 'publish' and then close the page down and walk away.

I wonder when I'll be back?